Friday, August 10, 2007

Browns’ Quinn Shouldn’t Need To Apologize

Sports of The Times
August 11, 2007

Berea, Ohio

Brady Quinn took his first cautious steps as an N.F.L. quarterback this week. After an 11-day holdout, Quinn, the former Notre Dame star, bolted into the Cleveland Browns’ training camp.

At the end of practice Thursday, Coach Romeo Crennel compared Quinn’s enthusiasm to that of “a young colt that has been tied up in the barn for a while.”

Make that a wealthy young colt. Quinn signed a five-year deal worth a reported $20.2 million, including a $7.75 million signing bonus.

“He was excited and frisky to be out there running around,” Crennel said. “He was the first guy out to practice, and he was running around excited to throw the ball.”

Quinn’s holdout was an issue with Crennel — an old-school coach of the first order, in the mold of his mentors Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Crennel wouldn’t refer to Quinn by name until Thursday afternoon, and he still refuses to refer to Quinn by position.

The dollar amount was an issue in the sports media, which, for reasons I’ve never understood, typically adopt management’s they-should-be-grateful mentality on issues of money and player holdouts.

Quinn spent the first 72 hours of his pro career on the defensive, responding to questions about his situation as if he were a naughty schoolboy who had cut class. How would he make it up to fans? Was he concerned with how his contract would sit with fans? How did he feel about being called spoiled by fans? Did he feel he had let people down by holding out?

Critics say Quinn was spoiled. I’ve never seen that in my brief dealings with him, nor have I seen Quinn as a player who was caught up in the role as the face of the Fighting Irish, a role manufactured by the news media.

Any pretensions that Quinn might have had were shattered on draft day, or even before that. He was a star in college until January, when he played in the Sugar Bowl against Louisiana State and JaMarcus Russell, who was the Tigers’ strong-armed quarterback.

Russell and L.S.U. were the overwhelming winners, 41-14, and Quinn’s stock began to plummet. Far from being the first, second or third player taken in the draft, Quinn dropped all the way to No. 22.

Now, in a football sense, he is the underdog.

“I think the fact that he slid as far as he slid in the draft, that kinds of breaks him down, that humbles a guy,” Crennel said. “Now I think he understands that things are not given. That was a good lesson in itself. Now he might have a chip on his shoulder.”

N.F.L. fans want blood: your blood, his blood. Blood.

Yes, the game requires skill and tactics; football is a game of chess. But the game at its core is defined by collisions, which the networks show again and again and again. This is what fans like about football. The fate of the players after they fade away is not the fans’ primary interest.

For all the bizarre and fairly consistent criticism of salaries out there, players need to make as much as they can and hold out for as long as it takes to receive the correct figure.

There’s no need to apologize. Trust me, if the franchise didn’t have it, the player wouldn’t get it.

Football fans will cringe — and cheer — when Quinn takes that first, crushing blindside hit or has a miserable afternoon of hard sacks.

Fans of professional football are fickle, and those who follow the Browns may be even harder on Quinn because he is one of them; he was born in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up in nearby Dublin.

I’m not telling Quinn to forget the fans, just to put them in the corner of his mind reserved for harmless background music.

What Browns fans have to ask themselves is whether more than $20 million is a bargain if it means reaching the Super Bowl.

“The home fans are going to cheer for him, and they’re going to pull for him when he gets in there,” Crennel said. “But then, if you don’t produce when you get in there, they’ll turn on you pretty quickly, too.”

The only questions that matter are: Is Quinn worth his contract? Did we see his best at Notre Dame, or is what we saw then merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of his talent?

Earlier this week, Quinn apologized for, or at least tried to explain, an event in which fans were charged $75 for his autograph.

“That was a misunderstanding,” he said. “That was set up a long time ago. It wasn’t as if I was charging for that.”

He said the money went to a charity in Ohio called Welcome House, which helps provide housing for people with mental or developmental disabilities.

Brady Quinn: stop apologizing. You have the contract, and your championship-starved franchise thinks you’re worth the money. And you think you are a starter.

Now prove it.



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